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Reflections

Welcome to the JCPC Daily Reflections Blog. Reflections are daily devotionals authored by JCPC pastors, staff and members and provide insight, guidance and comfort to help you make it through each day. If you’d like to receive Reflections each day via email,  provide your email address.

Friday, March 31 2017

"Ask and you'll get; Seek and you'll find; Knock and the door will open. Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need." Luke 11:9-10 (The Message)

This verse may be a familiar one to you. I read it this morning as it was the passage chosen for today on my desk calendar. These words were a helpful way for me to reflect on prayer and how I talk with God. Can you think of a time in your life when your conversations with God came from the perspective of making a bargain? Were there other times in your life when your conversations have been more direct? What parts of your circumstances influence the way you interact with God in your prayers?

I can imagine that each of us experience seasons in life that are challenging and raise significant questions about God's role in our lives. Even when we are direct in our prayers and ask for what we need, there are still times when we are surprised by the outcome of a particular life situation. I believe this is because God sees the big picture that we just can't see. God guides us and provides us with what we need when we need it, but that doesn't mean it matches up with what we think is needed.

I can look back on many situations in life and see how God's love is woven through those experiences. There were times in the midst of those situations where it was very challenging to see that same love, but now I can.

I would invite you to take to heart these words from the gospel of Luke in Jesus' message on how to pray. He gives the words to the Lord's Prayer and follows it with this very direct teaching. May these words of Jesus go with you today and help to guide you in your prayer life.

Prayer for Today

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 10:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 30 2017

As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
-Joshua 24:15b
 
The 1965 World Series was memorable for a number of reasons. Especially for believers, Jewish believers. Sandy Koufax, the star pitcher of the Dodgers refused to pitch in Game One since it was Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holy day.  So, the Dodgers turned to Don Drysdale, who started the game and gave up seven runs in less than three innings.  When his manager came to relieve him on the mound, Drysdale said, "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too." They lost that game to the Twins 8-2.

Koufax wasn't even at the ballpark. He was at the synagogue in Minneapolis.  Koufax came back and pitched games two, five, and seven. He threw complete-game shutouts in games five and seven, and the Dodgers won the series. His firm decision not to play in game one, but to play his best when he returned, showed everyone his highest priority was his faith and his God. Koufax is an inspiration to the Jewish people and to people of faith in all places to this day. 

A similar true and inspiring story was captured in the film, Chariots of Fire. In it, the story of Scottish athlete on the British Olympic team, Eric Liddell, refuses to run his event, the 100-meter dash because it's scheduled on Sunday. Son of missionaries, his convictions are deep, despite national and international pressures. Many of the other athletes, including one American, who slips him a note, supporting his strong commitment to God. His teammate even switches places with him to run the 400-meter... which he wins. The film remains one of the most highly praised of all time. I think it has less to do with the musical score than a powerful tale of glorifying God with our decisions and our sacrifice. 

This weekend begins spring break for those of you attached in any way to the Georgia school calendar. Many of you will travel and be away from Johns Creek and your family of faith. Like these inspiring athletes, I hope you and your household will serve the Lord. Wherever you wander, I hope you'll attend and worship in that place on the Sundays you are away. If you cannot find or miss the services there (plan ahead), take your Bible (or pull it up on your phone), read a text, pray together, sing or hum or listen to a few worship songs, and send me a selfie. I'll be looking forward to seeing you and your household serving the Lord, wherever you roam. 

Prayer for Today

Lord, this day, help me to remember and live so that the way my family and I prioritize you and the Sabbath is powerful witness to the love you have for all of us. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Brian Daoust AT 10:50 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 29 2017

We spent most of yesterday at the church without phones or internet. This also happened about a week ago, but we were able to fix it.  This time was different -- involving multiple vendors, each telling us it wasn't their problem.  When the internet goes down, those of us on staff deal with it differently.  Some of us wait around to see if it gets fixed soon. If not, we head to the nearest internet café, or home to finish up work needing a digital connection.  Others of us have to wait around to meet with the repairmen.  However we deal with it, I believe all of us feel disconnected to some degree.

I am amazed how quickly we have become conditioned to always being connected.  And when we are disconnected, it feels strange.  You have probably seen the TV commercial where the family is going insane because they have not been connected to the internet for only a few minutes!

Yesterday I found myself moving from task to task, only to hit a dead end when I needed to do something requiring me to be connected.  And I have to confess that when I am sitting still and things get a little too quiet, I find my hand creeping toward my smartphone, like an addict feeding an addiction.  I am sure some marketing people would respond with glee in hearing my story and my need to always be connected.

What occurred to me in the midst of all of this digital disconnection, was how I rarely felt that way when I become disconnected from God.  I don't mean that God actually goes away, but rather that I lose my awareness of God -- or even my desire to be aware of God.  Often the number one culprit is busyness -- and the digital world has made that much worse.  So, my reflection for today is simply this:  next time you feel disconnected, reach for your Bible instead of your smartphone, or say a prayer instead of tweeting a picture of you feeling bored.  You just might find a deeper, more lasting connection.

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for reaching out to connect with us.  Help us to return the favor.  We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 27 2017

On Friday I was working on my pastoral prayer. Reading 1 Corinthians 13, I was reminded that love is patient and I reflected on how important it is to wait and let things happen in God's time. My wife Debbie was heading out of the house and I gave her the blessing Godspeed. I chuckled with her when I mentioned that Godspeed didn't sound like waiting for things to take place in God's time. Or does it?

I Googled the etymology of Godspeed and rediscovered that it is a blessing for success. Troops going off to battle were given such a blessing. Battles are neither quick nor their outcomes assured. Neither is life for that matter. Perhaps 1 Corinthians 13 is Paul's way of saying Godspeed to us, the body of Christ.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-8

How do you define your success?

How would the way you view success be transformed if you used this scripture verse as the lens through which you viewed that life to which God calls you?

When I view my life through this lens, I see that I have a long way to go on my journey of love.  That's okay in my book; however, because love is patient and Godspeed is much slower than my impatient mind thinks.

Godspeed my friends!

Prayer for Today

Eternal God, grant us the gift of faith that sees you at work in all of life. Teach us your ways of love and inspire us to seek first your Kingdom. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 07:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 24 2017

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  
1 Chronicles 16:11

My four-year-old son is full of questions, and chatters constantly. I love talking with him, but he's developed an unfortunate habit of talking to me even when his back is turned. I often find myself saying, "I can't hear you-please look at me when you're talking."

Sometimes I think God wants to say the same thing to us-not because He can't hear us, but because we can tend to talk to Him without really "looking" at Him. We pray, but we remain caught up in our own questions and focused on ourselves, forgetting the character of the One we're praying to. Like my son, we ask questions without paying attention to the person we're talking to.

Seeking the face of God can strengthen our faith.

Many of our concerns are best addressed by reminding ourselves of who God is and what He has done. By simply refocusing, we find comfort in what we know of His character: that He is loving, forgiving, sovereign, graceful.
The psalmist believed we ought to seek God's face continually (Psalm 105:4). When David appointed leaders for worship and prayer, he encouraged the people to praise God's character and tell stories of His past faithfulness 
(1 Chronicles 16:8-27).

When we turn our eyes toward the beautiful face of God, we can find strength and comfort that sustain us even in the midst of unanswered questions.

Prayer for Today

Lord, let the light of Your face shine upon us. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 12:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 23 2017

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
-James 4:10

A part of my childhood was a close friendship with someone whose father was an alcoholic.  I didn't fully understand at the time why he spent so much of his life at my house until years later, but I know my mother did.  The program that was there for his father and millions of others has always held my respect and interest, Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA.  Because of this, I was eager to take the Ministry to Families of Alcoholics pastoral care class in seminary with my favorite professor when it was offered, and the strong support of this church for AA was one of the things that affirmed my call to serve here.

If you're unfamiliar with the program, at its core are some values that make it strongly similar to the Church, and therefore why it makes so much sense for churches to support it.  There's a recognition that everyone who comes needs help, that everyone's struggle can help others in their own, that no one is perfect, that the struggle is daily and never over, and that only a higher power can help them make the changes needed to live again.

AA gathers, like the Church, and together their members help one another through their struggles.  The Church is at its best when we are honest about our brokenness, but focused on the hope of redemption for ourselves and others, and grounded in the humility necessary to do both.  And when AA groups gather, as groups do 12 times each week here on JCPC's campus, they begin meetings with the Serenity Prayer, one familiar to many of us.

As believers, we gather each week to pray, to confess, to receive good news and encouragement, and to send one another into the world with hope and to face challenges.  As we have been discussing Passionate Worship in our sermon series here, it's worth reflecting on how one of our worshiping communities here shares our own passion for living lives in recovery, marked by the grace of God.  We know a hope and share a purpose and a love.

When I hear the collective murmur of this prayer as I walk by their gatherings, I'm reminded of my own hope and what we offer to people in need by providing the space and support of this ministry.  Passionate Worship acknowledges the burdens we all have, and provides a hope that God is our rock and refuge, a message worth sharing with others.

Prayer for Today

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Posted by: Rev. Brian Daoust AT 12:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 22 2017

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 
- Mark 2:27, NIV
 
In Stephen Covey's bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 7 is "Sharpen the Saw." Covey tells the story of a woodsman working feverishly for five hours to saw down a tree. When asked why he didn't take time to sharpen his saw so the work would go much faster, the man replied, "I don't have time to sharpen the saw." Covey uses this as the starting place to talk about the need to "Sharpen the Saw" in our lives. He says this comes through physical, social/emotional, spiritual, and mental renewal.
 
In our Christian faith we talk about this need for renewal as "Sabbath." Keeping the Sabbath is one of The Ten Commandments. And while we worship God on the Sabbath, as Jesus reminds us in the words above from Mark's gospel, we are the ones who benefit from Sabbath renewal.
 
It has become common practice in many churches to grant sabbaticals to pastors after serving a church for seven years. Our presbytery recommends this for all fulltime Pastors and Christian Educators. Sabbaticals are not extended vacations, but planned times of study and renewal for personal and professional growth. These are times for prayer, rest, and study that renew pastors so they can be more effective in serving their churches. It is one way to "Sharpen the Saw" that benefits both pastors and congregations.
 
Last Monday evening, our Session graciously approved the recommendation of our Personnel Committee that I be granted a sabbatical this summer after serving JCPC for seven years. Beginning May 29, I will be on sabbatical for eleven weeks. Neal Kuhlhorst and Brian Daoust have agreed to handle all pastoral duties during that time. They will be preaching along with other guest preachers.
 
I am very grateful to our Session for granting me this time of renewal. I will be sharing with you in the coming months how I plan to spend it.  I have become aware how many businesses are now offering sabbaticals to renew their employees. If you have some good suggestions for what to do, please share them with me!

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, we know that even during the creation of the world, you rested on the seventh day. Help us to realize that we, too, need times of Sabbath renewal. During our Sabbaths, may we drink deeply from the wellsprings of your grace. Fill us with your love. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 12:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 21 2017

"One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked Him - and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well." (Luke 17:15-19)

Out of the group of 10 lepers that Jesus healed, only one came back to say thank you. I also noticed that Luke made a point to mention that a Samaritan, a foreigner, was the one that came back. He was extremely grateful for the healing he received and immediately wanted to share his deep gratitude with Jesus.

Each day I experience kindness, compassion, and hospitality from different people around me. Sometimes I take notice and express my gratitude and other times I continue moving through my hectic to do list of responsibilities for that day. This story in Luke reminds me that I need to be more intentional about taking a moment to say thank you to those around me and to God.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend time with women in my extended family and in the greater church family leading them in a retreat. As we studied, prayed, shared, and rested I took the time to be more aware of God's presence. On Saturday evening, as an opening to our devotion and prayer time together, this was our view. The Lord blessed us with a beautiful sunset in the midst of a community who shared kindness, compassion, and hospitality to one another. How could we do anything but say Thank You!

As you travel through your day, be open to the kindness, compassion, and hospitality shown to you today. How can you express your gratitude? Who will you say thank you to?
Jesus reminds us that we grow in our faith as we are mindful of situations where we need to say thank you. We have received a priceless gift - Christ's sacrifice for us. I think of my life as a daily "thank you note" to God for this amazing gift. With this in mind, how might you live differently?

Prayer for Today

For this new morning and its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for every gift His goodness sends we thank you, gracious Lord. Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 03:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 20 2017

Heidi and I shared an ongoing laugh last Monday and it all started out innocently enough. "The day is really flying," I stated as we gathered ourselves to transition to our staff meeting. "Is it," she replied. I mentioned that I could say "this day is really dragging" but then our mood would sink down. I needed all the energy I could muster; it was Monday. What we say about the day has an impact on the progress of the day.

Midway through the day I said, "The day's still young" and we shared an insider laugh and we both knew I was going to continue this banter the remainder of the day. "This day has really flown..." and you can imagine what time of day I lobbed this comment Heidi's way. "You know, I said to her, that I'm going to write about this in next week's Reflections." Well, next week is now.

The Psalmist has a different way to speak to the day: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

What happens in your day when you begin the day by praising God, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let me rejoice and be glad in it?"

Or what could happen in the midst of an extremely difficult day when you stop to pray, "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it?"

Imagine what will happen when you complete your day praying, "This is the day that you, O Lord, have made, allow me to remember parts that I am glad with and in."

Let's find time to be glad in it together.

I know a time! Each Sunday morning Gray begins worship with the proclamation; "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!" I look forward to being glad with you this coming Sunday. We will rejoice together.

Prayer for Today

For the blessing of this day, I give you thanks and praise, O God and I promise to thank you for all your blessings that make my day glad. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 03:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 17 2017

Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left. 
-Genesis 13:9

In some cultures a younger person is expected to permit his elder to enter a room first. In others, the most important or highest ranking individual enters first. No matter what our traditions, there are times when we find it difficult to allow someone to choose first on important matters, especially when that privilege rightfully belongs to us.  

Abram (later called Abraham) and his nephew Lot had so many flocks, herds, and tents that the land could not support both of them as they traveled together.  To avoid conflict, Abram suggested they part company and generously gave Lot first choice of the land.  His nephew took the fertile Jordan Valley, leaving Abram with the less desirable land.

God always gives His best to those who leave the choice to Him.
-Jim Elliot

Abram did not insist on his rights as the elder in this situation but trusted his future to God.  "So Abram said to Lot, 'Let's not have any quarreling between you and me...Is not the whole land before you?  Let's part company.  If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left'" (Genesis 13:8-9).

Lot's choice eventually led to dire consequences for his entire family (see Genesis 19).  

Today, as we face choices of many kinds, we can trust our Father to guide us in His way.  He has promised to care for us. He will always guide us in every choice we make.  May our lives speak well of You and honor You today.

Prayer for Today

Father, Your unfailing love and faithfulness guide us in every choice we make. May our lives speak well of You and honor You today.  Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 11:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 16 2017

Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
-Romans 12:11-13The Message (MSG)
 
Almost everything we value in life requires tending.  And that tending helps us to attend to all our other tasks, and to the tending itself.  It's cyclical.  The image here is of a flame.  But we all know this pattern.  Having energy requires being in shape and eating well.  And not having energy makes it harder to exercise or prepare good meals.  It takes an initial investment and ongoing commitment to living well to keep living well.  Tending a fire is easier if you are warm.  Getting lax about tending to our needs makes it harder to attend to our needs.

Spiritual matters are similar.  Tending to our prayer and worship life is how we feed our spirit and develop our relationship with God. Tending to our prayer life daily and our worship life weekly helps us to be alert and cheerfully expectant.  Neglecting our prayer life and missing worship regularly makes it harder to return to them later.  We lose our enthusiasm and zeal.

I was reminded of this when I shared donuts with the pre-schoolers this week.  Part of their daily routine is reviewing the calendar, the weather, and their colors.  One little boy in particular absolutely loves color time.  He could not be more excited.  He knows them as well or better than others, but it's his zeal that sets him apart.  His enthusiasm is infectious to the other children and his teachers.  By the time he gets to the last color, he can hardly contain himself.  His fists are clenched, his feet stamp a little, and his ear to ear grin almost keeps him from shouting the color at the top of his lungs.  Almost.

But this little one has not lacked in zeal for a moment.  The daily repetition has not dulled his enthusiasm or excitement or eagerness to share.  Are we as eager for our daily rituals that are so vital to our lives and our growth as believers?  Tending to those practices is hard work, but we can keep from burnout by doing so daily.

Prayer for Today

Lord, grant me this day a willing spirit so I may be an enthusiastic servant.  Fan my flames, and help me choose to tend to my spiritual life with zeal.  Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Brian Daoust AT 11:50 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 15 2017

Abide in me as I abide in you.
- John 15:4, NRSV
 
These words of Jesus continue to work on me this week. If you were here last Sunday, you know I preached on this passage and what it means to "abide." Abiding in Jesus focuses on staying connected with God. On Sunday I mentioned three very simple but profound things we can do to abide in Jesus and maintain that connection with Jesus: PRAY DAILY. WORSHIP WEEKLY. FELLOWSHIP MONTHLY. If we want the life of Christ to flow through us, these three practices are essential, not optional, to our spiritual growth.
 
Find time each day when you are at your best to focus all of our attention on God. Read the Bible, reflect on what the words say to you, and then pray. Prayer consists of things like praising God, confessing our sin to God, thanking God, praying for the needs of others and ourselves, and finally listening for God's still, small voice.
 
Weekly worship means gathering in person with other Christians. While alone time with God is good, we need to be with other Christians on a weekly basis to worship God.
 
Monthly fellowship is more than just a party with friends. The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. This is the kind of fellowship in which we gather at least monthly with other Christians to learn about life as we support each other and hold each other accountable. At JCPC we have 14 small groups where this takes place. If you need to find one, contact Allison Shearouse (allisons@jcpcusa.org) and she can help you out.
 
How do we abide? Pray Daily. Worship Weekly. Fellowship Monthly. Without that connection our spiritual lives will atrophy and dry up. But when we abide in Christ, our lives can produce the spiritual "fruit" God created us for. As Paul reminds us, the "fruit of the Spirit" is love, joy, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) So enjoy some of God's fruit!

Prayer for Today

Abiding God, may we abide in you this day -- and may your love abide in us. In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 03:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 14 2017

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story- those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. 
-Psalm 107:1-3

What does it mean to endure something? What does endurance look like? Where do you find strength and courage when you are enduring a challenging situation or season in your life?

One definition of endurance is the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions. I am not a runner in training or competing in a sport. In my childhood through high school, I spent most of my time in the dance studio. The physical challenges and endurance I learned from those experiences have provided me with many of the tools I needed since then to endure physically. 

During that stage of my life, so much of the endurance involved my feet and they often looked like this:

 

In college and into adulthood, I don't require the same type of physical endurance that I needed before, but now life experiences that include grief, loss, and stress test my endurance more.  My endurance has moved from my feet to my hands and looks more like this now:

Look around you today, and think about what endurance has meant for you in your set of life experiences. Take a picture (either mentally or literally) of an image that expresses your definition of endurance.

God's love is one that is unconditional, always present and endures forever. During this Lenten season we reflect on the many trials and challenges that Christ endured on our behalf. Take a moment to lift up prayers of thanks to God today as you remember Christ's ultimate example of endurance.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, Help us to look deep within for your love that fuels our endurance. Guide us as we face today's challenges. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Posted by: Allison Shearouse AT 06:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 13 2017

I want to share a few thoughts pondered this past Friday when Jenny Ridnour, Susie Howard, and I debriefed CanCare's 5th Anniversary Celebration; Victory for Hope. First let me share our deep appreciation and gratitude for all who helped to make this occasion a very special evening.

One thought Jenny, Susie, and I pondered began much like the beginning of a joke. "What do you get when you combine a school teacher, a preacher, and a business professional together?" We were laughing a laugh of appreciation and relief that the evening went on without a glitch and surpassed our expectations. "Can you believe it... none of us has ever had a hand in planning an event like this before...Can you believe it...a school teacher, a preacher, and a business professional."

None of us professed to having the skill set needed to pull off such a wonderful event in the life of JCPC and our community. However, what each of us agreed upon was that we are passionate about God's work with CanCare. Passion is more important than processing all the tools.

Another belief that we agreed upon is that you don't need to be equipped to do God's work. Jesus called common men and women who didn't have the same "training" as he; but rather who were passionate in their sense of calling. The know how comes through many trials and failures.

Jenny, Susie, and I reflected how God took our passion 5 years ago and "trained us" along the way. The first In Harmony for Cancer Concert and Silent Auction was almost a wash out if you recall the torrential rains and a river running through the middle of the silent auction tent. Thank goodness for Steve Simpson and the scouts who provided the tent for that first CanCare fundraiser. None of us were equipped but we were willing to learn.

So this Lenten season let me throw out a challenge from the heart of "our team." Don't wait until you feel equipped to follow God's call. Show up passionately. Allow yourself to make mistakes; lots and lots of mistakes. And know that God will use this combination to touch lives (especially yours) in wonderful ways. To God be the glory.

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, equip your saints to do your will by granting the passion to follow you, the trust to make mistakes and the willingness to see things through by the gift of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 06:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 10 2017

You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people.
-Ephesians 2:19

A young African refugee who goes by the name of Steven is a man without a country. He thinks he may have been born in Mozambique or Zimbabwe. But he never knew his father and lost his mother. She fled civil war, traveling country to country as a street vendor. Without ID and unable to prove his place of birth, Steven walked into a British police station, asking to be arrested. Jail seemed better to Steven than trying to exist on the streets without the rights and benefits of citizenship.

The plight of living without a country was on Paul's mind as he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. His non-Jewish readers knew what it was like to live as aliens and outsiders (2:12). Only since finding life and hope in Christ (1:13) had they discovered what it meant to belong to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). In Jesus, they learned what it means to be known and cared for by the Father He came to reveal (Matthew 6:31-33).

Paul realized, however, that as the past fades from view, a short memory can cause us to forget that, while hope is the new norm, despair was the old reality.

May our God help us to live in security - to know each day the belonging that we have as members of His family is by faith in Jesus Christ and to understand the rights and benefits of having our home in Him.

Hope means the most to those who have lived without it.

Prayer for Today

Lord, as we remember how hopeless we were before You found us, please help us not to forget those who are still on the street. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 06:13 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 09 2017

13 
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

14 
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15 
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

-Psalm 139:13-16

"I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine... I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason."
-Hugo Cabaret 

It has always fascinated me how God forms us all so uniquely. Not just with different bodies and physical attributes, but with minds of various inclinations, skills, curiosities, interests, and preferences. As I talk with people, young and old alike, about their callings, to what God is calling them next, we talk about all those things to discern the answer. 

On a recent walk through our neighborhood, my son and I were talking about how to know what God is calling you to do because of your interests and abilities and the needs of the world. Of course, when you're 10, those interests can be deep and wide and you've not had many experiences to tell you what you'd love to work at or not love at all. But it occurred to me how we adults too often strip away our interests outside our vocational calling to arrive at an area or field of focus. 

How often do we stop reading about, exploring, inquiring, or discussing the areas of our imagination and curiosity to focus on those career interests? How often do we stop reading about dinosaurs when we don't become a paleontologist or about the heavens if we don't become an astronomer or stop taking dance lessons because we don't do it professionally? How much richer are our lives when we remember God made every single part of us, every interest and curiosity and skill... with no parts left over?

I encourage you this Lent to think about your interests and skills and curiosities. I encourage you to find ways to resurrect a hobby or begin to explore your passions as a spiritual practice that awakens the dormant parts of your soul that God made within you. And when you do, please share them. Definitely share them with me. I'm curious. 

Prayer for Today

Lord, awake my soul. Stir my imagination. Help me to explore my inmost parts that you made for a purpose. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Brian Daoust AT 06:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 08 2017

Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?
- Luke 9:54, NIV
 
I read these words yesterday morning as part of my devotional. This is what the disciples ask Jesus after they have been refused hospitality on their way to Jerusalem while stopping in a Samaritan village. The Samaritans and the Jews were not on good terms, to say the least. But even in those circumstances, asking Jesus if he wanted them to call on God to zap the unhospitable Samaritans seems like a bit much.
 
And yet . . . there is still some of that today when we look around at our world. The buzzword now is "polarized." Every newscast, every speech, every editorial makes reference to how "polarized" we are as a nation. Some believe this is only getting worse. When we see (or participate in) the confrontation between opposing sides, it is not too farfetched that one side or the other would call down lightening to take out the opposition -- if they could.
 
Thank goodness Jesus does not say in this story from Luke's gospel, "Sure, go for it!" On the contrary, Luke says that Jesus "rebukes" the disciples for suggesting this. In Eugene Peterson's translation of The Message, Jesus says, "Of course not!" It seems so obvious doesn't it? Well, maybe not to everyone.
 
When we encounter those who oppose us, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, forgive them, and turn the other cheek - things like that. I know it is hard not to want some negative consequences for those who seem to be on the other side of issues (and who are mean to boot!) But calling down lightening only seems to bring on more lightening. Who knows who will get hit the next time? Lightning bolts are not the most accurate dispensers of justice.
 
So next time you feel wronged, take a moment to count to ten. Pray for your persecutor, as hard as that may be. You may even try to forgive him or her. If that is difficult, just remember that is what Jesus did on the cross saying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34, NIV)

Prayer for Today

Thank you, God, for showing us grace and mercy, whether or not we know what we are doing. Help us to show the same kind of grace and mercy to others - especially when it is hard to do so. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 06:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, March 06 2017

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:4-7

Pictured above is Alice Ann Nilsen as she ushered in the beginning of our 24 Hour Prayer Vigil. I hope you were one of the many who gathered in prayer, lifting up supplications and thanksgivings to God. Thank you Alice Ann and your team for hosting such a meaningful time of prayer!

Alice Ann is passionate about prayer. On many occasions I've heard her say that prayer is the most powerful activity we do as Christians. I know that through her actions she is practicing what she proclaims.

Alice Ann took the lead to create our Holy Hands in Prayer group that meets every week to pray. This group is fervent in prayer and they are the embodiment of what Paul encouraged the Philippian church to be. Often it is in our prayers that we experience the peace of God which surpasses all that we understand. Prayer life is an essential element to our passionate worship!

Gray has begun a sermon series on passionate worship this past Sunday. Rather than worship being an hour on Sunday morning, passionate worship takes place regularly and often. Also, it is experienced throughout the liturgical seasons like Lent.

Wednesday evening we gathered for Ash Wednesday and we experienced passionate worship with Brian preaching passionately to those who gathered to usher in Lent. This weekend JCPC passionately gathered in prayer for our 24 hour prayer vigil.

In your prayers, supplications, and thanksgiving may you experience the peace of Christ.

Prayer for Today

Loving God, fill our hearts with the passion of Christ, so that our worship of you and our service throughout our daily lives will be pleasing in your sight. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Neal Kuhlhorst AT 06:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, March 03 2017

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:18

At the memorial service for Charles Schulz (1922-2000), creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip, friend and fellow cartoonist Cathy Guisewite spoke of his humanity and compassion.  "He gave everyone in the world characters who knew exactly how all of us felt, who made us feel we were never alone.  And they he gave the cartoonist himself, and he made us feel that we were never alone...He encouraged us.  He commiserated with us.  He made us feel he was exactly like us."

When we feel that no one understands or can help us, we are reminded that Jesus gave us Himself, and He knows exactly who we are and what we are facing today.

Hebrews 2:9-18 presents the remarkable truth that Jesus fully shared our humanity during His life on earth (verse 14).  He "tasted death for everyone" (verse 9), broke the power of Satan (verse 14), and freed "those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (verse 15).  Jesus was made like us, "fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God" (verse 17).

Prayer for Today

Thank You, Lord, for sharing our humanity so that we might know Your help today and live in Your presence forever. Amen.

Posted by: Our Daily Bread AT 07:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, March 02 2017

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
II Peter 3:18
 
If you are like me, Lent is not only a time to reflect and to pray, or give something up, but it's a season when you get asked, "Presbyterians do Lent?"  And other fun questions, like, "Do you give things up?  Do Sundays count?  Do you eat meat on Fridays?"  All good questions.  I usually answer with, "Sometimes, yes, and not around my mom."  (Mom still does the fish Fridays because of her half-Catholic upbringing.)
 
Do you give something up?  Is it a big deal?  Do you make a big deal of it so everyone knows?  Have you found the practice to be helpful or spiritual or informative?  I found after many years that sometimes giving something up was meaningful, sometimes frustrating.  And the same was true for my friends and family.  Them giving up foods and drinks sometimes unintentionally caused problems for the rest of us for weeks who planned meals with them.  Them giving up social media meant I might not speak with them for those weeks.
 
I began to experiment with taking on a spiritual practice during Lent, at the urging of other pastors and educators.  If you've never done that before, I recommend trying it this year.  Start today.  You can write letters.  Paul and James and many early Church leaders were fond of exercising their spiritual gift for encouraging others in this way.  It's equally, and perhaps more encouraging in this day and age.  Try to write one every day.  Or, incorporate prayer into your life more.  Don't pray at lunch currently?  Breakfast?  In public?  At bedtime?  What about in traffic or in line at the bank or DMV?  There are even apps that can help remind you to pray at specific times.
 
There are also opportunities here at church this Lent.  Our Christian Educator, Allison has set up stations here at the church for various forms of prayer.  Additionally, the Labyrinth will be set up in the Youth Garage this weekend.  If you would like to make use of it during your time at the prayer vigil or before or after worship, you are welcome.
 
I hope you will consider using the time of Lent to reflect on your own spiritual formation and give up or take on something that will strengthen your walk with the Lord.

Prayer for Today

Lord, help me to make space in my daily life for a closer walk with you. Amen. 

Posted by: Rev. Brian Daoust AT 07:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, March 01 2017

Here I raise my Ebenezer.
- From the hymn 
"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
 
Recently I was reading a book about worship in which one of the authors said how much he liked the words "Here I raise my Ebenezer" -- even though he did not know what they meant until he was an adult. He just liked the way they sounded. He was making the point that there are things we learn from memory that can shape our spiritual lives, even before we comprehend them.
 
In case you do not know what these words mean, they come from the Bible (1 Samuel 7:12). They refer to the name of a stone Samuel raised up to commemorate his victory over the Philistines. No doubt it stood there for a long time as a symbol of what God had done. It was something important they should not forget.
 
I think we have similar "Ebenezer" experiences in our lives that we need to remember as being significant. Last Saturday evening's 5th Anniversary CanCare Victory for Hope Dinner was one of them. Not only was it a memorable evening filled with inspiring speakers, meaningful recognitions, and excellent fellowship - I believe it also marks a significant time in the life of our church. That event was actually the coming together of two of the five goals in our recently completed Long-range Plan.
 
The first goal involved passionately pursing a major mission initiative focused on a specific human hurt or need. Through that mission, we would be known as "the church that . . ." Today, we are known as "The CanCare Church." Five years ago we decided to become the lead church in bringing CanCare to the metropolitan Atlanta area. Today we have been so successful that the "Atlanta Model" is now the model that will be used nationally to expand CanCare.
 
The second goal was the completion of a multipurpose building. Our Great Hall fulfilled that need. We saw these two goals come together last Saturday night when we used this amazing new space to host this life-changing community event. I believe that event will be one of our "Ebenezers" we can look to for years to come. It will remind us what we can do together to make a difference in our world through God's grace! And thanks to all of you who helped make that possible.

Prayer for Today

Loving God, thank you for those transformational moments that create pillar events in our lives. When we need strength and encouragement, remind us to look to these pillars to build up our faith. Thank you for all of the great things you do in our lives! In the strong name of Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.

Posted by: Rev. Dr. C. Gray Norsworthy AT 07:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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